Wednesday, 26 March 2008

A friend of mine (also the master of the dojo where I started aikido) has come up with an idea of creating a website that explains and illustrates basic aikido principles, movements and techniques to beginners. I joined the site team... :)

The basic idea is that although aikido can't be learned from photos of videos, these can be used to train the mind or to understand and digest instructions of your aikido classes if there are proper explanations and instructions accompanied with these photos and videos. So we started creating short presentations explaining the very basics of aikido, for example, tegatana (hand-sword), mae ukemi (forward roll), hanmi (guard/ready position aka. half-stance), etc. The presentations contain photos, illustrations as well as explanations as to what is in the pictures and why what we see is important to understand (see picture below).

Tegatana illustrations at

To properly set up the site and to go live, first we will need some testers (the creative manager came up with the expression Test Pilots :)) who provide useful feedback, possibly some suggestions, for the site and its contents. So this is an advertising post now, if you would like to help us, learn something and get discounts later, please visit and register into the test team.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Aikido3D review

A couple of months ago a friend showed me the Aikido3D software. I hesitated a lot until I actually started writing about it (which I'd been planning since I got to know about its existence) because I have mixed feeling about it (and so have my friends).

It gives you aikido techniques demonstrated by a skilled master (Donovan Waite). You can watch the demonstrations in 3D, you can stop or slow down any time, you can change viewpoints and there is also some commentary to the techniques. The 'videos' can be grouped by they type of attack, technique or kyu grades. There are buttons to turn features on and off, for example, whether to show the footsteps of tori (aka. nage, who throws the other) during the execution of a technique. You can also switch between hakama and simple gi and you can even turn off either the display of tori or uke. There is another option to turn on the "center radials" which show the centres of practicing partners. You can also adjust the playing speed and turn on/off commentaries.

All this is nice but there's always a question in my mind when using aikido3d: what is it good for? Why is this needed? I understand it's different because of the 3D display but why is that better than series of videos?

I think the main problems that made me think about the possible purpose of the software are the commentaries and the limitations of the display. To explain the latter, I can adjust the camera's position, rotate around the aikidoka left to right or right to left, I can zoom in or out of the centre of the scene, change between top, front and 'follow' views but I just wanted to grab the screen with the mouse pointer and rotate the view freely - left to right, up and down, zoom to one certain thing I wanted to understand. Maybe it's just my personal preferences, it's not really a crucial problem.
However, my main concerns are the commentaries: they don't say much to a beginner and don't say enough to an advanced student about the techniques. For example, comments such as "to drop Uke's center, Nage must extend and relax his arm" are exactly like this. It reminds me of a childhood tale about the girl who was asked to "bring something but don't bring anything" to the King*.

The interesting bit with Aikido3D, however, is that when you slow down you can see the minor mistakes and problems. I was watching hanmi handachi kaitennage and I was like "Ha! He's losing tegatana now! Ha! Again!". It was even funnier when I "turned on the footprints". Sometimes I could see the irimis and tenkans in the line of attack as I was taught but, particularly for longer techniques, the footprints just looked like blood splatters on the mat :).

Maybe I'm a bit too much of a perfectionist but I would have preferred the digitalising of the moves of top shihans such as Yamada Yoshimitsu who's in the "special thanks to" section of the software. Waite shihan is really good but I don't know much about him and would have trusted the demonstrations by very top masters more.

A note to myself: as a technique can't be done twice exactly the same way to be 'perfect' (O'Sensei famously refused demonstrating exactly the same technique once again after being asked so because the first photo might not have been good enough) and different technical bits are usually emphasized in different demonstrations so I think I keep training and reading about aikido but don't watch the same recording 100 times unless it is really instructional with loads of explanations and helping instructions.

My rating is 3/5, what do you think?

*the girl brought a bird but she released it just before giving it to the King. She brought something but didn't bring anything...

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Are you a slow walker?

In one of the recent trainings I showed tenchinage (heaven-earth throw) in the kids' class. First we started with gyaku hanmi katatedori (left hand grabbing right hand or right grabbing left) and I showed only the chi (earth) part where you just slide a bit sideways and forward and point into the irimi (unstable) point of the attacker who then rolls or sits down the mat smoothly. This looked nice so in the next training I also introduced the ten part where the not-grabbed hand goes to control the attacker's chin and you step forward causing the same effect on the attacker as before (i.e. roll or sit).

However, when we started practicing, one of my young aikidoka speeded up and wanted to throw me quickly. This was the moment I suddenly remembered having read a quote from Abraham Lincoln:

I'm a slow walker, but I never walk back.

I will explain the speed of practicing much more when the speed-up next happens (which is totally expected as children have a lot of energy to release which makes the class lively and, for me, more enjoyable). I guess I will talk about speed after playing some tiring aikido-games such as the one where you need to throw your opponent off balance from a hand-shaking position :).

To switch to my own training experience, this quote is a very good one. It is said that speeding up has a certain balancing effect and you can obviously use more of the attacker's energy, but to learn the basics, especially how to do ukemi (fall, breakfall) without risking injury, high speed doesn't look ideal. If you can do a technique slowly you will certainly be able to do it fast when you learn the necessary skills to handle breakfalls.

I recently complained to one of my friends that their aikido demonstration for recruiting new students was too slow. He didn't respond to this comment which made me think about why he chose that particular speed (I was sure it was a deliberate choice). After a while, I understood why the demo was like that. I understood that he just didn't want to decieve prospective newcomers by showing what they won't be able to do at the beginning. Now I think it was fair because people who would have joined their trainings based on an over-exciting, fast (also, populist) demo would have left soon having been disappointed. I guess it's better to attract less people but keep them for longer than to attract a lot of people whose majority will leave the class very soon (which happens in most martial arts, aikido included, unless you get that addiction).

Although they say "You can't cross a chasm in two small jumps" (David Lloyd George), in the beginning of learning something new wouldn't you rather practice jumping over small ditches if it was possible, to gradually prepare for the great jump?

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Black hakama - black eye

Last September when I first officially* trained in hakama I got a black eye. Not as black as Captain Jack Sparrow's but it could still be noticed.

I didn't watch Little Britain at that time but I could have surely repeated stage hypnotist Kenny Craig's famous lines when I saw people staring at me in the street:

"Look into my eyes, look into my eyes, the eyes, the eyes, not around the eyes, don't look around my eyes, look into my eyes, you're under"
It was also funny when I went to watch the others play football the next Saturday wearing sunglasses on a particularly cloudy day. Some other players actually believed that I didn't play because I hadn't passed the ball enough times the previous Saturday and things had turned nasty when discussing the matter :) (I couldn't say that one of the aikido girls kicked me in the face, that would have been so unmanly! :)). Truth 1. I didn't want to play because I still felt some fluidy material 'being shaken' below my left eye so it wouldn't have been wise to kick the ball and run around. I turned into manager instead and directed the team. Some players liked it, the others didn't want to say anything in case I started picking fights :). Truth 2. the Saturday games are far more friendly than it seems from the above paragraph.

There's another joke I immediately remembered when I saw myself in the mirror (I knew this joke with another nationalities so no offence to anyone):

Three Scottish men were sitting together bragging about how they had given their new wives duties

Macbain had married a woman from America and bragged that he had told his wife she was going to do all the dishes and that needed done at their house. He said that it took a couple days but on the third day he came home to a clean house and the dishes were all washed and put away.

Macgregor had married a woman from Australia. He bragged that he had given his wife orders that she was to do all the cleaning, dishes and the cooking. He told them that the first day he didn't see any results but the next day it was better. By the third day, his house was clean, the dishes were done and he had a huge dinner on the table.

The third man Cameron had married a Scottish girl. He boasted that he told her that her duties were to keep the house cleaned, dishes washed, mowed, laundry washed and hot meals on the table for every meal. He said the first day he didn't see anything, the second day he didn't see anything, but by the third day most of the swelling had gone down and he could see a little out of his left eye. Enough to fix himself a bite to eat, load the dishwasher, fill the washing machine and call a landscaper.

God bless Scottish women!!!

Apart from laughing at it, I tried to do something 'scientific' about it and documented my black eye's gradual disappearance. In case you want to fake a black eye for whatever reason, have a look at the pictures and apply the make up with respect to which day you are faking from the supposed injury (the idea comes from a CSI episode when the sharp-eyed CSIs noticed that a women applied the same black eye make up for several consecutive days).
The other reason for taking photos every day was that the person who accidentally kneed me in the face felt guilty about it although we immediately agreed after the incident that 'accidents happen, next time both of us will be more careful'. It would have been silly to make a scene or point to someone else even if I felt like that anyway. But I didn't.
I'm putting the photos of my mornings-after-project here on the right. Note that I didn't take pictures every day when the bruises became hardly visible (click on it to enlarge).

Now, how the eye got its nice, dark colour: it had all happened before the training even started. I put my hakama on properly for the first time so it had to be tested. Simple tachi waza was ok, I felt comfortable. Mae ukemi, ushiro ukemi were fine, I rolled exactly like before. I knew suwari waza would be more complicated. I expected that when I move in suwari waza I would step on my hakama and possibly fall over (I had heard similar stories before). Simple suwari movements were not so easy but at least I didn't hurt myself. So we tried some techniques where I'd be thrown in suwari waza: I think kotegaeshi was the first (and last) technique to try. I'm not sure whether it was the first kotegaeshi immediately or the second, but when going down to roll I felt a sudden blunt force trauma (too much CSI at that that time) below my left eye. My first thought was that I'd be fine because I hadn't felt any cracking noise which would have meant that something had been broken. The left part of my face was a bit numb so I laid down on the mat to get over it but I wasn't in shock or anything similar. I got a cold, wet towel to put on the 'wound' as we didn't have ice in the dojo. Then I trained like before, the only difference was that thing at my left eye which made me colour some tissues red from time to time during the training.

That was the only injury I have had in a training visible for more than a week in my 7 effective years of doing aikido. I think it's much better injury rate than for any other martial arts where you can easily get a broken rib in a competition.

*I count the Sunday training as official because there are kickboxing trainings before and after the training on Wednesdays and, although I had practiced tying and folding my hakama at home before the first Wednesday training, the pressure of having to change to gi and hakama quickly before training and changing back to normal clothes even quicklire after training was high and I couldn't tie and fold my hakama as nicely as I wanted to.

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Integral Transformative Practice Seminar in Brighton

I attended the first ITP (Integral Transformative Practice) workshop held in the UK by ITP teacher Pam Kramer, ITP President. Thanks to Mark, who I know through our blogs, I was invited to join and learn about ITP which is strongly based on aikido as it was developed by aikidoist George Leonard (and Michael Murphy). So I went to Brighton on my name day...*

The first thing I noticed as a good start of the day that I got to Brighton in 20 minutes less than to the university where I go twice a week. Vive la TFL. The weather was typically British but the workshop was an indoor event so nobody had problems with a little rain (and I'm used to it by now, anyway).

We started at 10am with an 'informal check-in' and started doing the various exercises planned for the day. I don't want to go into the details of each of these exercises so I just write a couple of thoughts about the ones that interested me the most.

Firstly, we did the ITP kata which is an appr. 40 minutes long series of centering, balancing, stretching and meditative exercises. Around 80% of what we did were very familiar, I even do many of them in the children's classes (for example, the rowing exercises and the 'water' exercises). It was a good feeling to do something I knew with people I did not know, and at the same time, see that there are small but interesting differences in how these techniques are done in our trainings and at ITP. One of these differences, for example, is how we hold our hands when doing the 'stirring in a big bowl of water' exercise: I simply learned to draw horizontal circles while resting one of my hands on the other (well, kind of...) but we imagined a large spoon in our hands on Saturday and also, that we were stirring water. I liked it very much and will probably change to this method in my classes as children can probably get the exercise more easily.

I also liked the 'soft eye - hard eye' exercises. I have already heard and read (and written a bit) about how and what to look during aikido trainings but the exercises on Saturday helped to understand the importance of this more. Using 'different eyes' while doing taisabaki in pairs was really interesting experience. At one time you see only the face of your partner, then their whole body and then the whole room with others doing the same steps. Definitely something to practice more in aikido trainings: Awareness and connection (two of the letters from the acronym GRACE of ITP).

The third memorable exercise** was the one that tested our ways of communication. Whether you push someone when talking, whether you just surrender or run away from pushy people was tested through a simple moving-pushing exercise. I learned about myself and realized that I'm usually not too pushy but tend to give myself in more easily, possibly too easily. I can now watch myself, change this behaviour if I want to and, next time, test it with the exercise. Liked it.

The fourth one was easy but also a lot to learn from: how to listen and how to be listened to. It's a very good feeling to be completely listened to (be heard), not to be judged or just be able to listen and not interrupt others when they want to tell something and they simply need to be understood and accepted. Good one, too.

There were several other exercises as ITP appetisers but I think the above four are the main ones that I learned the most from.

I also met several interesting people, aikidoka as well as civilians :D which was good.

*My name day also happens to be the International Women's Day as well as the day right after my birthday but I'll rather write about this later, in another blog :). I bought flowers and ice cream to Heni on my way home and she prepared a Japanese dinner by the time I got home. It was definitely a good day :).

**I selected the memorable exercises by sleeping on them, and whatever exercise I was thinking about on Sunday morning got selected for this post.

Monday, 10 March 2008

What needs changing

I said some time ago that it's very easy to identify when someone is not doing something well. I myself can criticize almost anyone or anything which is a bad habit and I'm trying to get rid of it. More precisely, I'm trying to get rid of criticizing only. For me, it has been a long process to learn how to criticize constructively and not just saying what's wrong even if I can say how that wrong could have been done better. A bit complicated statement but to cut it short: I am changing from negative to positive.

It's like a long lasting (maybe everlasting?) learning of the steps of how to improve. My current guidelines for myself regarding changing things are something like the following (and it doesn't really matter whether or not I'm thinking about aikido when applying these steps).

  • It's easy to see what's wrong. I should note these things and think about whether I can or want to change them.
  • There have been some wrong steps that happened in the past, those can't be changed so I need to learn from them (My affirmation from Saturday: "I accept the unchangable". See later in another post about ITP). Sometimes I'm still struggling with wanting to change the past. When this happens I usually take my little book about peace and read from it, especially the parts saying "let go the past". I feel much lighter after reading a couple of these lines.
  • If something is happening in the present, I still need to think about whether I can or want to change it. For example, there was an article I read about communication, thanks to Mark for posting the link in his blog. One paragraph from this article was particularly interesting and gave some lighter feeling, too. It described the sunset and the main idea was the following. When you see the sunset, you just admire, look and accept it. You don't say "Soften the orange a little on the right hand corner, and put a bit more purple along the base, and use a little more pink in the cloud color.", why would you want do it another times, especially with human persons. It's easy to try to control others, especially if you are in a higher position, but is it really necessary? When I feel unsafe for some reason I tend to try to control others, too. One of my aims is to look at them like I look at the sunset. Maybe I want to look at them as sunrise in which there is the opportunity for a nice day and I don't even need to want to change in the way other's day will go unless they ask for it (or threaten me like an asteroid which is nice to look at but can make a lot of mess upon impact). It's similar to moaning about the rainy wheather. It has to rain sometimes, doesn't it? I take my umbrella or go faster to get some shelter (just like this morning I was running away from the London storm as I didn't want my laptop to become wet). I'm learning to let happen whatever doesn't need changing.
  • When I decide I want to change something I should do my best to make it to as good as well as possible. Sometimes it's not the 'doing my best' part which is hard but to completely decide and be committed that I want to do it and it also needs my best. This applies to my current PhD work. For a long time I was almost convinced that it was useless for what I felt I needed for myself. I'm still not entirely convinced but at least I'm close to finishing and the other thing is that I haven't really experienced any alternatives (workwise) for which I could say "that's definitely better both for short and long terms". So I convinced myself that I needed to do my best to finish, even if I felt there was some lie in it.
  • When I have changed something I should look for something else that's worth making better, more importantly, it feels better to make that thing better. This is the hardest part for me. To leave the safe and finished business (university, finished contract, PhD, etc.) and start a new one. I'm currently thinking hard on what to do next after submitting my thesis and probably I should have started looking for work but I haven't made up my mind yet as to what I should do, should I continue what I do (and should I stay in academia or apply for some research job at a good industrial company) or should I change completely (for probably less money which is currently a big thing as my PhD funding has run out exactly a year ago)? This is the current question of the month for me, possibly the question of the previous and upcoming months as well.
Change is an interesting thing. Probably I shouldn't think about it this much but make it happen if I can and want to. What do you think?

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Bowing in London where Steven Seagal is not bald

I read in the aikiinseattle blog that the blog is accessed through strange and recurring keywords from time to time, namely "Steven Seagal bald". I guess it's general interest :).
Based on this observation I conducted my own research into how my blog is reachedvia keywords and key expressions.

The most polite I found was "Bowing in London" :D. Although it's pretty straightforward that and 'l' from Bowing is missing or, less likely, the 'B' was supposed to be an 'R'. Nevertheless, I imagined how someone from the Far East wanted to come to London and learn about the customs of greeting here, just note the capital 'B' :).

My other favourite occurs almost every week, I'm not sure why it is so fascinating or how it is connected to the blog at all: "mother organisation". It is one of the top keywords/key expressions to access the blog. I guess either someone really likes this expression or Google Analytics is playing a game with me :).

Another web-based observation:
My hakama folding instructions post must have been very good because somebody immediately copied it and hosted it along with two tons of ads (I only got to know this from the technorati widget and because I included a link to the previous hakama folding post from this instructional one). I don't mind if someone copies things but I would appreciate if the source was also given because, after all, I made the effort of taking the pictures and writing some instructions to them. Shame on you copycat :).

And finally, in case you are interested: most of the blog's readers are from the UK which is followed by the US, Hungary, Canada, Australia and Spain. Thanks to everyone for reading the blog!

Monday, 3 March 2008

Awards and certificates

Aikido is against competition (except for the Tomiki style). The only person you need to fight and win against is yourself. So it's a good thing to get some feedback about how the fight is going. It's good to get some recognition for the level someone achieves which is exactly what gradings are supposed to give you. Yesterday Karesz handed out the grading certificates to people who graded at the end of January. The certificates came from the Hungarian Aikido Foundation whom Karesz visited last week to learn more from his master and get the "paperwork" done :). Congratulations again to the 6-5-4th kyu aikidoka!

He also introduced awards now which work well for the kickboxing children and adults at Holistic: he gave away certificates and medals of achievement in 2007. I got the "Biggest Effort" award for writing the blog, running the children's classes and for whatever he felt I had done right :) so I'm not completely impartial when I'm talking about these awards. It felt good to get one which is good. It boosted my inner ego which is not too good. So I have a double-standard feeling about myself because to get an award that distinguishes you from anyone else can lead to some kind of competition between people in the next year. However, if the award makes you work harder and help yourself improve more, it's good. It seems that by this line I have successfully managed to convince myself that the award is good for me. I wonder how others who haven't received one of the three awards feel about it.

Since the master gave away certificates and he wasn't going to get one for aikido before his next dan grading :), we decided that it was time someone got the "Master of the Year" award, so he received one together with an aikido mug. He immediately put it into use by drinking his Guinness (with blackcurrant) from it after the training. A well deserved drink :D.

I think the smiles on the faces of people receiving kyu certificates, awards, mugs as well as people just training to receive certificates the next time tells a lot about how joyful aikido trainings can and should be.

"Always practice the Art of Peace in a vibrant and joyful manner.